Sunday, November 13, 2016

Doll (87th Precinct #20)Doll by Ed McBain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

"[...] the knife slash across her throat poring blood onto the canvas, setting her hair afloat in a pool of red that finally overspilled the oaken frame and ran onto the carpet.
Next door, the child Anna clung fiercely to her doll.

Ed McBain's (the pseudonym of Evan Hunter) Doll, the third novel in my "Selective McBain Re-read" project and the 20th installment in the 87 Precinct series, was published in 1965. I like this book more than the tenth item in the series, King's Ransom , and much more than Cop Hater that gave beginning to the whole series.

Five-year-old Anna clutches her doll and consoles it with soothing words while her mother, a beautiful fashion model, is being brutally murdered in the next room. The strong beginning sets the tone for the entire novel which describes the 87th Precinct detectives, Steve Carella, Bert Kling, and Meyer Meyer conducting the investigation. Carella, a father of twins, is so appalled by the brutality of the model's murder that he neglects to follow the police procedure when he finds the clue that will lead him to the murderer; the nature of the clue is not revealed until the end of the novel. I am unable to provide further synopsis without spoiling the mystery: this is especially important because - for once - the publishers were careful not to provide any spoilers on the cover of the paperback.

The author paces the captivating plot well and Doll is a great short book for readers who like the so-called page turners. Yet the novel is marred by implausibility of several events and the use of situational and dialogue clichés, which are - sadly - the author's trademark. The entire Bert Kling thread, well-intentioned as it may be, comes across as naive, didactic, and stereotypical. The woman torturer is a grossly exaggerated, cartoon-level portrayal and lame, stilted dialogues further spoil the author's effort.

Neither do I care for the manner in which the solution is explained. It does not read well when one of the characters' diary is used to elucidate the background of the case. On the positive side, the author again shows his strength in realistic depiction of the police procedure and several passages are quite well written, above the bare minimum literary competency that characterizes most mysteries and thrillers.

Anyway, I recommend the novel because of its suspense and mystery value. Readers who can tolerate psychological clichés and implausibilities may find this book outstanding. Although my enthusiasm is quite moderate, this installment of the 87th Precinct series certainly makes me want to read more books in the series, from the later time frames. For the next re-read I will jump to the beginning of the 1970s.

Three stars.

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